Mathews takes pride in defying expectations
Angelo Mathews, Sri Lanka's captain, hailed his players for defying expectations after their seven-wicket victory over India at The Oval kept alive their hopes of a Champions Trophy semi-final. He dedicated the performance to Sri Lanka's supporters, who made their presence increasingly felt as the game went on, as well as the victims of last week's flooding in the country.
India had looked in control after posting 321 for 6 but Sri Lanka, led by dashing half-centuries from replacement opener Danushka Gunathilaka and Kusal Mendis, overhauled the highest successful Champions Trophy chase to set up a virtual quarter-final against Pakistan on Monday.
"It was a very important game for us," he said. "You know, no one really expected us to win. That took a lot of pressure off ourselves, and we just went out there, expressed ourselves and you can see what we can do when we play with a lot of freedom.
"That's our trademark, papare," he said of the band playing enthusiastically in the stands for much of the game. "They come wherever we play. The Sri Lankan people like to have fun. It was very pleasing for us to give them a win because we had some terrible times in the recent past, especially with losing a lot of lives for floods, and we are very grateful that we could give them a smile.
"It was like playing a World Cup Final. It was so noisy and a great atmosphere. We all know that all the Indians travel, and they're right behind their team. I must thank all the Sri Lankan supporters that came out here. Even though it was little numbers, it was fantastic support for us. We really thank all of them."
Mathews had sat out Sri Lanka's opening fixture - a heavy defeat against South Africa - due to a calf injury but contributed an unbeaten half-century on his return to help his team over the line. When asked about criticism aimed at himself and the coach, Graham Ford, for recent performances, he said he had been glad to be able to front up.
"It's always the coach and the captain. Today, once again, Kusal Perera's call [to retire hurt] was also crucial. As a captain, I had to send him in, and it would have been a few bullets fired at me if it hadn't gone too well. But that's what we are there for, to take crucial decisions at crucial times, and it doesn't matter if it fails. But, yeah, there is a lot of responsibility on the coach and the captain. So we do our very best out there, and we get the boys to do their very best, and we get the boys to try really hard, that's what we look for."
Mendis was named Man of the Match for his innings of 89 off 93 and Mathews said that he and the team had benefited from speaking to Sri Lanka's previous No. 3 before the match. "He [Mendis] met Kumar Sangakkara to get a few batting tips, and he's the king, and we all look up to him. We all get advice from him, all the batters. He taught us a lot of good things on how to play on these tracks. Yesterday the guys met him and took a lot of advice and went out there and implemented it."
Sri Lanka's victory left all four teams in Group B on two points after two games. Pakistan pulled off a surprise of their own when beating South Africa at Edgbaston on Wednesday and Mathews warned about taking preconceptions into the final round of matches.
"It doesn't matter if the opposition respects us. We are out to do a job, and we don't really think about what the opposition think," he said. "I mean, no one really expected us to win today as well, but we knew underneath that we had the talent and we had another opportunity to beat a fantastic team, which we did.
"We don't want to think too far ahead. We just want to take one game at a time. Now it's done, and we look forward to the next game. It will be the same plans, go out there, no expectations. Go out there, play with a lot of freedom. You know, if we play good cricket, I'm certain that we can beat any team."
Alan Gardner is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @alanroderick